WASHINGTON — It was just business, but the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald threw buckets of cold water on the successful completion of one of the most remarkable comeback stories and tales of perseverance in recent NFL memory.
The Rams’ defense recorded eight sacks — a career-high four by Donald, the two-time league defensive player of the year — as Los Angeles defeated the Washington Football Team 30-10, a game which saw the return of quarterback Alex Smith to a football field for the first time since suffering a life-threatening leg injury back on November of 2018.
As the rain came down throughout the contest, the Rams defense reigned throughout in holding Washington to just 10 first downs and 108 total yards, and the unit remarkably held Washington to minus-6 yards of offense in the second half. Donald and reserve linebacker Troy Reeder (three) combined for seven of Los Angeles’ eight sacks.
Despite the defeat, the highlight of the game came in the second quarter, when Washington backup quarterback Alex Smith replaced an injured Kyle Allen at quarterback, marking the first time in 693 days that Smith appeared in a competitive game. In between that last game and today, Smith underwent almost 20 surgeries in total after suffering a gruesome compound tibial fracture and, in between operations, came close to losing his life to an infection.
Extensive rehab not only saved his leg, but also salvaged his career, and Washington kept him under contract during Smith’s extensive rehab. Smith earned a spot on the 2020 roster as the No. 3 quarterback out of training camp, and after the early season struggles — and eventual benching — of opening day starter Dwayne Haskins, Smith came into today’s game as the No. 2 quarterback.
At the two-minute warning of the first half today, Smith, with his family sitting in the otherwise empty stands, replaced an injured Allen and made it all the way back from the brink.
“The list of people that have helped me as far as getting back is so long, the amount of people that I relied on over the last two years, I’m so thankful for them,” Smith told reporters after the game, “and it’s something I try to let them know as often as possible — not just today.”
Smith’s numbers — 9-for-13 for 37 yards — are secondary in telling the story of his perseverance, though they do help to tell the story of the Rams’ dominance on the defensive end. Smith was sacked six times, and hurried a number of other times by Donald and Los Angeles’ front as Washington rarely challenged the Rams’ secondary down the field.
“It’s incredible what he has overcome,” Rams coach Sean McVay said about Smith. “You almost wish it were in better conditions. Weird to say when it’s also our defense making things difficult for him. I’m just so impressed with him.”
Los Angeles’ offense was impressive at the start of the game as quarterback Jared Goff completed his first 10 passes on his way to 309 passing yards and two touchdown passes. Goff also ran for a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter, giving Los Angeles a 20-7 advantage and marking the third touchdown for the Rams in their first three possessions.
In first quarters this season, Goff has completed 38 of 41 passes for 422 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Darrell Henderson Jr. ran for a score in the first quarter from a yard out to open the scoring at 6-0 and caught one of Goff’s two touchdown passes, from 11 yards, midway through the fourth to complete the scoring.
Allen’s 7-yard run for a touchdown with 1:34 in the first quarter, and the subsequent successful extra point, gave Washington its only of the game at 7-6. Just four plays later, the Rams retook the lead for good on a 56-yard bomb down the left sideline from Goff to Robert Woods on the first play of the second quarter. Later on in the quarter, Allen took a hard hit from Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and was forced out due to a shoulder injury.
Donald, who now has 7.5 sacks on the season, also recorded a four-sack game back on Oct. 21, 2018 against San Francisco.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday’s game, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 31 pictures in total. Along with hoping that you enjoy the pictures, we are encouraging those of you who are serious about educating oneself and making a tangible difference in the fight against social injustice — but struggling to find a starting point — to click this link, an anti-racism resource guide for white people.